Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/11

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7
OF PROGRESS

like the early Christians, would have been quite content to see the earthly career of the race closed in their own time. Even Roger Bacon, who is claimed as the precursor of modern science, says, that all wise men believe that we are not far from the time of Antichrist, which was to be the herald of the end. The Renaissance was a conscious recovery from the longest and dreariest set-back that humanity has ever experienced within the historical period—a veritable glacial age of the spirit. At this time men were too full of admiration for the newly recovered treasures of antiquity to look forward to the future. ln the seventeenth century a doctrine of progress was already in the air, and a long literary battle was waged between the Ancients and the Moderns. But it was only in the eighteenth century that Western Europe began to dream of an approaching millennium without miracle, to be gradually ushered in under the auspices of a faculty which was called Reason. Unlike some of their successors, these optimists believed that perfection was to be attained by the self-determination of the human will; they were not fatalists. ln France, the chief home of this heady doctrine, the psychical temperature soon began to rise under its influence, till it culminated in the delirium of the Terror. The Goddess of Reason hardly survived Robespierre and his guillotine, but the belief in progress, which might otherwise have subsided when the French resumed their traditional pursuits—'rem militarem et argute loqui'—was reinforced by the industrial revolution, which was to run a very different course from that indicated by the theatrical disturbances at Paris between 1789 and 1794, the importance of which has perhaps been exaggerated. In England above all, the home of the new industry,